Installation/Setup/Ease of Use
The Stargate setup menu was relatively simple to set up. It was not as polished as some, but it got the job done. It has some of its own logic, such as pressing the corresponding numerical button on the remote for your selection, and then using the volume keys to adjust speaker levels, etc. Usually this is something accomplished with the navigation keys, but it is not hard to get used to after a bit. The large display is really easy to see across the room, is unique in its look, and frankly, is kind of cool-looking. To each side of the display are control buttons, but I did find myself wishing for a plain old round volume knob and selector control. The surround mode/stereo control is not exactly intuitive, but again, the job gets done. The Stargate does have an independent second zone, as well as an AM/FM tuner, both very nice features to have on a processor.
The Stargate does not have balanced outputs or inputs, something that did surprise me in the price range, as many processors do have such. It has assignable digital inputs, as well as assignable names to the different sources. It has all the necessary surround modes: DD EX, DTS-ES, Neo:6, Pro Logic II, and a 7.l Matrix mode. It does not have an adjustable crossover frequency for the subwoofer, but apparently the software is being revised to include such. The Stargate has two component inputs that it switches, less than the three that I like, but they do function without any visible degradation of the picture.
I first listened to the Stargate in two-channel mode. The sound is smooth, slightly rolled off on top, with a smooth, expressive midrange and a fairly responsive bass. The width of the soundstage thrown up is fairly respectable and has a neutral to slightly laid-back character. It complements the overall smooth character of the sound, creating a relaxing sonic experience. This processor does not have THX, but the smooth character of the top end makes this a moot point, in my opinion.
Using the Stargate as a two-channel preamp revealed its audiophile roots as the sound was clear, again smooth, slightly warm with a slight rolled-off top end, but full of detail and richness. Multi-channel audio using the Marantz 8400 provided more of the rich sound, and the Stargate, although not quite as open and involving as the much more expensive reference Krell HTS 7.1, performed admirably. The Stargate does little wrong as a preamp, except for my desire for a pair of balanced inputs.
Surround processing is good, if not very good. I rather liked the proprietary multi-channel music mode for two-channel sources, in many cases I preferred it to Dolby Pro Logic II music processing. Panning effects were done smoothly, and without issue, as so many good processors do today. The Stargate did a very good job of creating the "sonic bubble" that we look for to create a realistic movie watching experience.
MOON AURORA-5 AMPLIFIER
Installation/Setup/Ease of Use
As I mentioned before, the Aurora is a monster. It follows the same design idiom with a charcoal black face and silver side plates, as well as the centrally mounted heat sink on the front plate that looks like the nose plate of Darth Vader's mask. It only has one switch on the front panel with one small blue light to denote operation. This amp is built like the proverbial tank and has a very clean back plate with easy to hook up speaker bindings, as well as single ended and balanced inputs.
Simply put, this amp sounds like it looks: huge and powerful. It seems to have a never ending power reserve, excellent dynamics (it maintains class A up to five watts), and has a smooth top end that limits listener fatigue. It maintains a vice-like grip on the bottom end, and bass comes across as strong and controlled. This is not to say that this amp is brutish and unpolished in its delivery, rather it manages to stay smooth and detailed at all times. That wonderful power reserve is a big help in creating the sonic bubble that I mentioned with the Stargate; this effect is similar to what I experienced with the Halo A51 as both of these amps seem to just push the sound out of the speaker, thereby creating excellent sonic bloom. If I had to nitpick, I would say that the Aurora is just slightly less smooth and has a slightly more laid-back top end than the Halo A51, but it does have the edge with a very easy to use back panel with lots of room for connections. This amp makes me wonder how much better the Titan, its bigger brother, is, as the Aurora is just excellent.
MOON STARGATE SURROUND PROCESSOR AND MOON
As a combination, the Stargate and Aurora-5 are a distinctive, interesting and solidly performing pair. Although I thought the Stargate was a good, if slightly feature-lacking, processor, the real star of the pair was the Aurora-5, which I believe is one of the best values in multi-channel amps. When you buy such a uniquely styled product, it is hard not to consider the matching processor, and fortunately the Stargate does not disappoint in performance. I have always said that the basis for a great surround sound processor is great audio performance, and I am glad to see that Simaudio agrees.
MOON Stargate Surround Processor
Video Inputs: (5) sets of S-Video,
composite and 2-channel audio
(2) sets of component, S-Video, composite,
and 2-channel audio
Digital Audio Inputs: (4) digital coaxial,
(2) TosLink optical
(2) sets of analog audio inputs
Dolby Pro Logic II, DD, DD EX, DTS 5.1,
DTS-ES, 7.1 Matrix Music Mode, DTS Neo:6
Dimensions: 19" x 6.5" x 14"
MOON Aurora-5 Amplifier
200 watts/channel at 8 ohms,
400 watts/channel at 4 ohms
Also available in a 7-channel version
(1) XLR and (1) RCA per channel
Static Damping Factor of 800
Dimensions: 19" x 8.75" x 26"
MSRP: $4,500 (5-channel)